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Robert Ray On Trump's Senate Trial Defense


The case against the president of the United States is simple. The facts are indisputable. And the evidence is overwhelming. That's according to a legal brief that has come from the Democrats on their argument for why President Trump should be removed from office. Working on the president's defense is his legal team, which includes Robert Ray, independent counsel during the Clinton administration. This is what Mr. Ray had to say about President Clinton in January 2001.


ROBERT RAY: He has admitted that he knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers to questions in the Jones deposition and that his conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Robert Ray joins us now. Welcome to the program.

RAY: Good morning. Thank you for having me this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a pleasure to have you. Did the president have a perfect phone call, as he contends?

RAY: Well, that's not the issue for the United States Senate sitting as a court of impeachment to decide. The issue is whether or not crimes were committed that are sufficient to warrant the president's removal from office. And as the president's answer, which was filed recently, indicates, this is an impeachment that is a partisan effort. It does not enjoy bipartisan support and be - for that reason, it is illegitimate. And as a consequence - principally because of the fact that no crimes were charged in the articles of impeachment, which is unprecedented - it is the reason why the president has interposed an answer. We'll have a trial to sort all this out - which will begin, obviously, Tuesday this coming week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, isn't it because - that is what sparked the entire inquiry - the president has repeatedly said it. We now know a lot more, of course. Ken Starr's former deputy independent counsel says the president's own defense of his conduct is thin legal ground to tread on. Here's what Solomon Wisenberg told us. Let's listen.


SOLOMON WISENBERG: He's presented a real problem for his litigation team because they're stuck with a client who has repeatedly said it was a perfect phone call. Nobody believes, in reality, that it was a perfect phone call. It was an imperfect and improper call. It was a sleazy call.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'll ask you again what you think about that.

RAY: Well, look. The call - the only - the measuring stick to evaluate that call - and fortunately for everyone, the country included, we have the benefit of that call transcript - is that that...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Partial transcript - notes more than a transcript.

RAY: ...Well, I think everybody now has acknowledged - including Lt. Col. Vindman - that that's as close to a verbatim transcript as you're likely ever to see. So it's not a partial transcript. He acknowledged the accuracy of that transcription of the phone conversation, and he monitored that call as it occurred.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you're not disputing the facts of the case, then, that Trump...

RAY: No, no, no, no. No, hold on a second. That's not what I said. Don't put words in my mouth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, I'm asking.

RAY: It's not, importantly, treason, bribery, or any other high crime or misdemeanor. It's not bribery. It's not extortion. It's not an illegal campaign contribution. It's not any of those things. And because it is not any of those things, that is why it is not impeachable. It also is the reason why it does not enjoy bipartisan support - which, successful impeachments - the most recent example being, even though it never actually made its way to articles of impeachment voted on by the House and removal by the Senate, was during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Those - in that case, crimes were alleged. The articles - or most of the articles enjoyed bipartisan support, and it ultimately resulted in the president's resignation from office. That's far from the case here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Part of your argument is that the Democrats are launching an attack on Americans' ability to choose their own president. The constitution allows for elections and impeachment. Doesn't that mean they - the two things serve different purposes?

RAY: They do. But the point being is that the framers were very careful to make certain that there would not be overreach by the Congress relative to overturning the will of the American people. And that's why they provided for the Senate to sit as a court of impeachment with sufficient insulation from the body politic to make a judgment in the best interests of the American people. And they required that it be a two-thirds vote in order to remove a President from office, which necessarily means that it has to be bipartisan. There is no indication here, based upon the actions of the House - unlike the situation involving both the Nixon impeachment and the Clinton impeachment - that there's any - that this matter enjoys any bipartisan support. And for that reason, that's why the president, in his answer, has called this illegitimate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One more question. The president has said repeatedly that he thinks Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, the whistleblowers, the Bidens should all testify, but he's also said anything other than an outright dismissal gives the Democratic witch hunt credibility. So which does he really want?

RAY: The - that's what we have trials to sort out. Ultimately, that will be the judgment that the United States Senate will make. And if the Senate decides that they don't need to hear witnesses in order to make a judgment that an acquittal is appropriate, that's what they'll do. And we'll sort all that out this week. Stay tuned.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That's Robert Ray, former independent counsel and now a member of President Trump's defense team in the Senate. Thank you very much.

RAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.